The Obama administration is witness to big changes in federal nutrition programs, and that counts as a measurable accomplishment for the leadership at the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The work of first lady Michelle Obama to encourage healthy eating and exercise has been a force for good, and the Oct. 1 implementation of fruit and vegetable vouchers for the Women, Infants and Children feeding package provided hundreds of millions of federal dollars to improve the diets of lower income moms and children.
Now the USDA has another chance to improve the lives of millions of kids by following the recommendations of the Oct. 20 Institute of Medicine’s report on bringing school meals in line with dietary guidelines.
The USDA gave IOM the politically sensitive task a couple of years ago to recommend adjustments in the nutrition requirements of school meals. Those standards haven’t been adjusted in 14 years, so the time is past to match what is given to students with federal dietary guidelines.
Specifically, the IOM recommends that the amount of fruit offered in breakfasts should increase from one-half cup to one cup per day for all grades.
For school lunches, the IOM recommends the new requirement should be three-quarters to one cup of vegetables per day, plus a half cup to one cup of fruit.
Though any changes to federal feeding programs can invoke nasty food politics, it is encouraging to hear that agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has said the agency is committed to follow work through the IOM recommendations.
Congress must also do its part to increase the reimbursement rate for school meals in preparation for this long overdue adjustment in school meals.
When finalized, that will be change we can believe in.
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